The Chronicle’s View: Felony charges for prank is unfortunate

When U baseball player Ryan Breska went to go pick up some photographs last month, he was met with an unpleasant surprise. Waiting for him in the store where he was picking up the photos were Brigham Young University police officers who arrested Breska and took him to the Utah County Jail, where he spent the night on felony charges.

The charges stem from the pictures themselves, which show eight members of the Utah baseball team painting red U’s on the large Y overlooking the BYU campus.

Because that action is illegal, and because the damage estimate for the crime is greater than $1,000, the players now face second-degree felony mischief charges, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Breska has said that the action was perpetrated in hopes of adding some fire to the long-standing U-BYU rivalry.

While these players’ actions were by no means defensible-blatantly breaking the law rarely is-the serious repercussions they now face are unfortunate.

Pranks of this nature are not uncommon between Utah’s two biggest rivals. There is a long-standing history of players from both schools inciting one another in a friendly and competitive manner.

There is not, however, a long-standing history of these players being prosecuted for their actions.

Rivalries, school spirit and competitiveness are all facets of the college experience-they have been for ages. Rivalry pranks have long acted as a way for schools to display their pride in a nonviolent way.

Often, these pranks are nothing more than innocent attempts at rousing support and attendance for sporting events. Rarely are these actions malicious or done with the intention of causing harm or serious damage.

The intentions of the U players ought to be taken into consideration prior to their trial date. The fact that these Utes took pictures of their prank implies that they were not worried about criminal charges, as the photographs can be used as evidence.

The logical question becomes, if these players were not consciously committing a felony, then what were they doing? Most likely, nothing more than continuing a tradition that has existed much longer than any of the players have been in college.

While not intending to commit a crime is no excuse for committing one, second-degree felony charges seem a little extreme. Even the charge, felony mischief, sounds like an oxymoron fitting for the situation-although illegal, what the players did does not warrant a felony charge that carries the same weight as certain types of child sex abuse and burglary.

A lesser charge is much more reasonable punishment for what amounts to nonviolent collegiate indiscretion.

Let the fate of these U players serve as a lesson for other students: While keeping the rivalry alive is a legitimate cause, the ramifications for breaking the law in the name of school spirit can be devastating.